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It has been well documented that physical exercise promotes better brain health.

As we get older we become aware that our reaction times in thinking becomes slower, we are less adept at planning and multi tasking. We find it harder to take in and remember new information. We find our ability to concentrate and focus diminishes and we may even notice symptoms of the onset of neurodegenerative disease. Yikes!

But do you have to go to the gym to be getting the necessary exercise to maintain good body and brain health?

Does the thought of donning lycra, using muscles you never know you even had, and getting really sweaty and puffed, (or being in the close vicinity to someone else in lycra who is sweaty and puffed) not inspire you to want to exercise?

Well the good news is. You don’t have to.

The key is regular exercise and it can be as simple as starting with increasing opportunistic activity.

It can be walking, swimming, running, golfing ,cycling, whatever you like and are happy to persist with. It can even include  going to the gym (lycra not essential)

What could you do at work to increase your activity levels?

Are you stuck at a desk all day in front of a computer screen?

The first thing is to get you up and off your bottom. Try planning in 10 minute slots where you get up, have a bit of a stretch and move and walk around the office. Better still, try to get outside into the fresh air.

It’s like long distance flying. After sitting on your bottom for too long in an aircraft we know the need to get up and have a stretch.

When parking your car either for work, at the shops  or elsewhere, rather than spending time trying desperately to get the closest spot to the nearest entrance, try parking a little further away from your destination so that you have to walk that incremental distance, plus you may find a greater number of freer spots to park in.

If there is the choice of the elevator or the stairs, take the stairs.

Get a dog! They are always ready for a walk and will provide the necessary incentive with a wag of the tail, fetching the lead (or even the trainers) and of course look at you with those big brown pleading eyes.

Is it ever too late to start exercising?

Absolutely not.

Obviously, the earlier the better. Kids who participate in sport in childhood and adolescence have been shown to tend to do better academically, and be better adjusted in terms of mood.

The aim is to carry on through out our lives participating in some form of regular activity that we enjoy.

The key is consistency.We need to be making exercise part of our every day lives that we simply do.

Studies have shown that  going for a walk every day for 20 minutes will add significantly to our overall well being and reduce our risk of stroke (by 57%).

Walking three times a week for 30 minutes has been shown to diminish our risk of developing dementia by 10% at least.

Walking that bit further is even better with improved benefits for every additional kilometre walked.

If we are feeling a bit stressed, under the pump or have a problem, going for a walk will help us to gain clarity in our thoughts and enable us to resolve these issues as well as improve our overall sense of well being.

When we exercise, we increase the amount of blood flow to our brain and that also means the brain receives more oxygen and glucose.

Regular activity will promote the formation of new blood vessels in the brain, we have greater energy production and our existing brain cells have a better chance of survival.

Even better, studies have shown that regular exercise enhances neurogenesis or the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus. This is a specialised area of the brain that is particularly important for learning and memory.

And yes there is more.

The extra “steak knives” on offer is that exercise stimulates the increased production of substances called BDNF’s which are crucial to supporting and nourishing existing brain cells.

Those who exercise more, show less loss of grey matter which means greater retention of the executive functions of the frontal lobes in reference to better concentration, attention and planning.

Plus, it appears that exercise can induce a change in the expression pattern of a wide array of genes. This is particularly important for example where  someone may be carrying a gene which may put them at increased risk of developing something like Alzheimer’s disease. If that gene is not expressed or if the expression is delayed, that could have a significant impact on that person in reducing or delaying the probability of them developing the disease.

The bottom line is that participating regularly in physical activity has clear benefits in assisting us to maintain good brain health and improving our cognitive function.

It’s a no brainer not to be exercising.

Now where did I put my trainers?

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Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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